Bubba Watson: Panic attacks may have been acid reflux
KAPALUA, Maui -- Charlie Beljan made news with his remarkable victory at the final official tournament of 2012, the Children's Miracle Network at Disney, even as he suffered from panic attacks on the course. At one point Beljan told his caddie he thought he was dying, and he spent Friday night in the hospital.
Masters champion Bubba Watson opened up about his own panic attacks during a press conference at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Wednesday. Convinced there was something seriously wrong with him, Watson checked himself into the hospital three times, once in 2007, once in 2009, and once in 2011, only to be told he was fine and that it was all in his head.
During a lengthy interview with Golf Magazine later Wednesday, Watson expounded on his health scares and explained why he's hopeful they are a thing of the past.
GM: Can you talk more about your panic attacks? This isn't something we were aware of before today.
BW: Three times I’ve had issues where I thought something was wrong with me. It wasn’t anything I was doing at the time. The first time I was sleeping. I wasn’t really sleeping very well. It was ’07, I think. It was the middle of the night at home, I woke up and we went to the hospital. One time, in ’09, I was sitting watching TV at home. And one time, in 2011, I was at the golf course, and it wasn’t my heart—the other two times I thought it was my heart. The third time it was something down my leg.
GM: And you were sent home each time.
BW: Doctors said there was nothing wrong with me. Everything was perfect. Everything was normal. It was just me overreacting. They said I needed to get on medicine to calm my mind down—basically ADD medicine to slow my mind down, basically, because my mind’s always racing. Just sitting here I’m thinking about a million different things. But I hate taking medicine. I just told them, "Well, all right. I’ll just have panic attacks, then."
GM: Were you stressed out at the time?
BW: What we found out now is acid reflux, which is the same nerve endings as your heart—I was eating really, really bad, really unhealthy. I hired my trainer for health reasons, not golf reasons. I wanted to be on planet earth for a while. These health problems were arising, and my mind was racing; I’m like, "Oh, my gosh, my heart, do I have this, do I have that?" I was just freakin’ out basically, in my mind.
GM: You've said you're afraid of crowds, which would seem to make life difficult as one of the most popular players on the PGA Tour. Why are you afraid of crowds?
BW: I’m afraid of three things: I’m afraid of crowds, I’m afraid of the dark, I’m afraid of heights. Those are my biggest three fears in life. Elevators, enclosed areas freak me out, as do big crowds. That’s why I don’t like concerts, I don’t like certain places when I go into a restaurant. I like being in control of the situation and when you’re in a big crowd you’re not in control. It’s like you’re in a mosh pit. I’m real weird about certain things. I don’t like that dark—that’s just weird. I’m scared of heights.
GM: So you and your son, Caleb, will be able to compare night lights?
BW: Yeah, I’m gettin’ him the best, so then I’ll be able to feel safe, too. Hopefully he won’t be like me, hopefully he’ll be tougher than his father.
GM: But you’ve jumped off Black Rock here in Maui--is it like aversion therapy?
BW: It’s funny. My caddie [Ted Scott], he’s not really afraid, and he hasn’t jumped off of it. My trainer said it’s me learning to overcome my fears. For me, that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m seeing all these other people doing it, and I’m like, I’ve got to do it at least once. So the last three years I’ve jumped off Black Rock. I’ve heard different numbers—it’s like 25 feet to 40 feet, somewhere in there.
GM: Do you sleep with a night light?
BW: At a hotel, I’ll have a light on in the room, so there’s always light.
GM: And you won’t use elevators?
BW: No, I’ll use elevators, but I’ve got to stand in the corner. I’ve got to know what’s behind me. I always want to be able to see—I’m very good at observation. I’ll be talking to Teddy about a shot, and I’ll be like, "Hey, that guy in the red shirt over there has got a camera." He’s like, "That guy’s behind you. How do you see him?" I just do. A little glance like that, I can tell you everything.
GM: That’s like the story about Joe Montana, when he was directing a game-winning drive for the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, suddenly saying in the huddle, "Hey, John Candy’s over there!" He’d recognized John Candy in the crowd.
BW: That’s what I mean. I notice stuff that doesn’t mean anything.
(Photo: Fred Vuich/SI)